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Who are Bis? What are Bis? Questions which seem to be of only relative importance to the members of everyone's favourite flavour of the month. Although they seem to be pretty much in touch with reality, they do not take themselves or their music too seriously. Fun being the keyword here. They are children of the here and there and they go by the names John Disco, Sci Fi Steven and Manda Rin.???
MANDA: It started as a joke. Everyone used to call me Manda cause my real name is Amanda and it was really funny. It's good in a way because when you get a lot of personal abuse thrown at you it's not you they are talking about, it's that character, that band member, not you as a person, because they don't know you as a person. It's fun, too, because they'll remember your name.

JOHNNY: There's not a lot of bands nowadays who go by synonyms.

Since Bis play a kind of music which is definitely energy-driven, fast & funny I asked myself how they seem to see themselves growing (old) with that kind of approach. Or are they planning on changing their sound sometimes?

JOHNNY: We're not really planning to do anything. I think it is good to develop. Probably one time we will get tired of the energy but we will always do fast songs.

MANDA: If you look at bands like Beastie Boys or Sonic Youth they still do pretty energetic things.

A different kind of energy, though. Usually bands who grow old together tend to get a little bit slower. And if Bis would play their music slower it would take some of the appeal from it, wouldn't it?

JOHNNY: Yeah, it's essential to best have fun instead of making the music sound like fun. Maybe we will get slower sometimes but I don't really want to think about it right now.

How did they get together and start and develop their sound - which is not the ususal British stuff.

JOHNNY: Yeah, thank god. Well, me and Steven are brothers and Manda was at school with us and we were always into the same kind of music - Suede, when they started. So it was really natural for us to come together and create a new sound which is pretty cool.

Of course this is cool - but did they really start out to create a new sound?

MANDA: We didn't try anything, it just kind of happened. When we try out a sound or I write a song, I don't really think about it. We all add our little bits and pieces which is always more fun to do than plan anything. We're really lucky.

Right. But many bands sit there and try and nothing ever happens.

JOHNNY: The thing why it went so quickly is because it was something new and when you do something new, people take notice of it. If we were a band who went like nananana yeah yeah - like Oasis we wouldn't get any attention for it, we would have been thrown in the bin. Also, we do get a lot of crticism because we do something new. But you have to expect criticism.

The songs don't sound like they have been written with an acoustic guitar sitting by a campfire. How do they happen?

JOHNNY: We all have our recording machines back home. We experiment with things. I don't like writing with chords, just a melody, belting at it and see what happens, there's no set routine.

There never is.

JOHNNY: Yeah, we could go out and get drunk and try to do our stuff but usually we're quite sober when we write.

Bis work with "Mr. Drum-Machine". Isn't that hard to write stuff with such a thing, because it has to be programmed beforehand?

MANDA: Actually it's easier.You can record really quickly. There's certain patterns and you can work on the structure afterwards. You can put together as much as you want. Usually Steven does the programming. He's very good at it. The bass comes out of the drummachine as well.

JOHNNY: Usually we stay away from conventional rock rhythms. Sometimes the song can begin with the drums, sometimes the melody comes first.

Some of the stuff they come up with couldn't be done with a live drummer.

JOHNNY: Exactly you would need about five hands to do it.

There are a lot of bits and pieces going on. Do they have a huge sound-archive?

JOHNNY: No, we don't ususally put a lot of thought in it: Oh that sounds nice, lets put it in.

What's their opinion on sampling in general?

JOHNNY: Oh yeah. I just bought a sampler. It's good not to sample a whole tune though because you have to give money to sound publishers and stuff but little sound bites are cool.

Well there's those tracks where they sample the whole song - just like the "Golden Brown"-

Rap thing.

JOHNNY: Yeah, I hate that. It's rubbish. Some people do it really badly.

Well one thing nice about the Bis-gang is that they are fans themselves. (In their bio it says that they like "Trainspotting". But Steven admits that he finds it hard to understand - and this comes from a Scottish guy). Manda for instance publishes her own fanzine called "Funky Spunk". A lot of which focuses on Drew Barrymore. What's the angle there?

MANDA: It's because she's not your stereotype Hollywood-actress and she plays various roles and she's really normal looking, she's not anyone fake, she's really normal. She had her breasts reduced in size beacuse she doesn't really care about these kind of things. I love people like that.

Well - as normal as an actress can be in that surrounding.

MANDA: Yeah, but she actually hates Hollywood. I actually hate the music industry, but you have to deal with it. There's this movie "Mad Love" where she picked the songs for the soundtrack. Plus theres this band playing in it, 7 Year Bitch, this amazing girl band. Drew went on tour with Hole (care off her liaison with Eric, Hole's guitar-player). You can imagine what it would be like for a Hollwood-actress to go to a gig. It would be bodyguards all over the place. She's surely normal.

When Bis play live they play with two guitars and the drum-machine, keyboard-bass thing - which has to be preprogrammed. So what do they do to make it appealing - thinking of Dubstar for instance, where the most active thing that keyboarder Steve does is flick his lighter to look at the digits of his computer settings. What do they focus on?

MANDA: We all stand in a row. There's noone in front of us or behind us, just three people. You can play the songs in any order you like, just step on the footswitch.

JOHNNY: We move around a lot. We're the most active band you have probably seen live.

MANDA: It's impossible to stay still with this kind of music.

JOHNNY: Manda even got a chordless mike so she can move around the stage.

Then there's the question of the cover versions - notably the Smiths' song "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side" - which in my opinion they pretty much slaughtered.

JOHNNY: Yeah exactly. We hate The Smiths. It's nice of you to say that, because mostly we get to hear how interesting our version was. I hate the idea of cover versions being exactly the same. If you don't like the song that much, you should try something new with it. We put a toy drum kit on and all the frog noises and stuff.

MANDA: We thought we'd really embarass The Smiths by showing how crap their song and how good our version was. (This is said tongue in cheek)

JOHNNY: We wanted the Smiths' fans to see how crap the song is.

Okay, that's cool, but why take part in this thing at all?

JOHNNY: 4.000 pounds.

Okay fair enough. What kind of music do they like?

MANDA: A lot of female singers, Atari Teenage Riot, No Doubt, Bikini Kill, lot's of powerful bands. Bands from the past that we'd been compared to, where we bought the records, like X-Ray Spex, and Rezillos and stuff.

If anything it would have to be the B 52's if one would like to compare Bis to anything.

MANDA: Yeah it's funny though. I've never even heard the B 52's because when they started I was far too young. It wasn't a conscious thing. There's always a nod here and there to music you like, but it's not conscious copying, more an accidental thing.

JOHNNY: I like Ska, really obscure things, XTC.

So what about the lyrics?

MANDA: We all write lyrics. The three of us write different songs from different points of views. So it comes out quite differently. We mainly write about our experiences. Experiences we made and experiences we had. Just the way we feel. We're in quite a good position too, because we are in a position where we can say something and can get the experiences we are singing about.

JOHNNY: But I do think the music always comes first. Because the music is most appealing to people. And if you got a good tune people will listen to the lyrics as well. We don't preach and if you want to listen, it's a really good way to listen.

The music of Bis is quite unique in the way that most of the time it sounds really funny. If you compare it with other music of youngsters (Silverchair, Stony Sleep) you'll notice that it's much more upbeat and positive instead of dark & brooding.

JOHNNY: We're really lucky that we can write funny music all the time cause we got so many songs and it really isn't hard to come up with stuff to sing about. We are really prolific, you know. It's not hard.

So bearing that in mind: What would they say is the most important aspect of their musicmaking?

JOHNNY: Energy & fun basically, that's the essence behind it. We use that as a tool.

Do they play music professionally or are they going to do something else later?

MANDA: There's no time really. I wish there was, but this is a full time job, you know. We go to America, Japan & stuff. We don't have time to do other stuff. We came just from school when it all started to happen and it happened very fast.

Bis are touring in May.

[Erstveröffentlichung im Baby Talk-Fanzine #10, Mai 1997]

Weitere Infos:
Interview: -Ullrich Maurer-
Fotos: -Ullrich Maurer / Pressefreigabe-

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